They then witnessed what happened in Tiananmen Square when Chinese students sought democracy, so they naturally asked: What can China bring to the table as it welcomes them back with their “one country, two systems” formula and the promise of universal suffrage?
The people of Hong Kong are conscious of “brainwashing” because they have seen it in operation in their former “neighbor,” China. They can recognize how the long-standing tradition of legalism in China has always been able to manipulate the traditions of Confucianism to enforce loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. They can see the extreme irony in how the PRC spends huge amounts of money in setting up Confucian Institutes around the world, while it is not practiced at home.
Confucianism theoretically depends on each individual developing inner virtue, from which one is led to adherence to a hierarchy and unquestioning loyalty to the state.
Unfortunately, in China, after thousands of years of preaching a manipulated Confucianism, in July the government had to make it a law that everyone must visit their elderly parents. When a state resorts to legalism to carry out what is purported to be “natural and traditional filial piety,” one can read the writing on the wall and know such a state would never trust its people with democracy.
Hong Kongers do not deny the virtues that are proposed by Confucianism, but they know that the structure it rests on is a past paradigm that no longer holds true. Confucianism came from the paradigm of an agricultural society in which the merchant was the lowest of its four ranks of society. Hong Kong (and most of China) has seen the opposite of that.
Today, businesspeople are kings and wield their power to seize and “develop” the farmers’ lands. The legalists, to keep power in the hands of a few, are again manipulating loyalty to the unchanging hierarchy of Confucianism. Hong Kongers know locusts when they see them, especially when they stream across their borders and take up hospital space, and force up housing prices.
Hong Kong can see that China’s nouveau riche businesspeople are not just country bumpkins that eat on their subways and spit in their streets. These “bumpkins” are backed by Beijing professors who in effect tell Hong Kongers that by asking Beijing to honor its promise of universal suffrage, they are the “ungrateful running dogs” of outsiders.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, few of the animals recognized how after the “revolution” the ruling pigs quickly altered the original seven commandments.
The last of those seven commandments became this: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
The Cantonese are becoming well aware how, in so many ways, they are not in that “more equal” crowd. Hopefully, Taiwan and the world can learn from their struggles.
Jerome Keating is a commentator in Taipei.